Even if you’re a seasoned outlet shopper and you are always in the line waiting for the Black Friday sales, you can still get overwhelmed when you go into a thrift shop. Even if you ignore all of the antique furniture and shelves of books and interesting trinkets and just focus on the clothes, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There are racks upon racks of merchandise. It’s mostly arranged by size and style but where do you begin?
Follow these tips and to leave the store with some great purchases and your sanity still intact:
1. Write a list before you go shopping.
Unless you decide that you are suddenly in the mood for thrifting, try to make a shopping list before you go. When you’re inundated with jackets, wedding dresses, sweaters, costumes, and everything else, you will probably forget that you were searching for a new pair of jeans.
2. Try everything on.
Do not trust size tags. We know how much sizes at regular shops can vary, and there can be even more variances in thrift stores because you’re dealing with older styles that have been sized differently, garments that could have come from anywhere, and even homemade things. If you like something, don’t go by what it says on the tag, if it looks like it will fit you, bring it to the change room and find out.
3. Always thoroughly inspect the garment.
If you’ve been burned in a regular clothing store thanks to a wonky hem or a hole in the side seam, you probably already do this will all your purchases. If you don’t do it regularly, ensure you always do it at thrift stores. Make sure to check the armpits for discoloration and stains around the inside of the neckline. Check the entire thing for holes or flaws, not just the seams.
4. Take a look at the other sections.
Don’t just stick to the women’s section. I know that is probably enough to tackle but if you’re up to it, you should always do a quick sweep of the men’s and children’s sections. There could be misplaced items there and there are usually pieces that will fit. The kid’s section often has some juniors pieces or things from teenagers that could work for you. Keep an eye out for shirts in the men’s section and oversized jackets and old-school blazers in the kid’s section.
5. Don’t discount something because it’s slightly off.
Do you love that dress but wish it was shorter? Are those sleeves just a bit too flared? Those are easy fixes that a seamstress can do. You can even do them yourself if you have basic sewing skills. Don’t like the buttons? Change them. If there are any holes in the seams those can easily be fixed.
6. …But know when to draw the line.
If you’re not a sewer, it may be difficult to judge what is an easy fix versus what is complicated. Adjusting the length of sleeves or hems or tapering something are generally very simple. If you want to start changing the entire design of the item, put it back on the rack. You don’t want to be paying more for alternations than you did for the garment.
7. Take a look at the washing instructions.
If you don’t ever dry clean your clothes, take a look at the tag to see if that blouse you’re holding can actually be thrown in the machine. Watch out for items that are hand wash only too, if you can’t be bothered for that.
8. Remember the shoes, accessories and jewelry.
If you’re a thrift shop newbie, the accessories section is one of the best places to start. You don’t have to worry about precise fit. Make sure you check the buckles or straps on shoes to ensure they still work. If the store has a special glass case with accessories, be sure to check it out. That is normally where they keep the higher-end items, but they’re affordable.
9 Emotions Everyone Goes Through While Bargain Hunting In A Thrift Store
Shopping at a thrift store can be a pretty intense experience. The stores are usually quite crowded, and it’s entirely up to you to find the diamonds in the rough—there are no perky sales associates popping up to offer you assistance. The stakes are high, but the rewards are even higher. The question is, do you have what it takes to survive the experience?
These are the emotions that we all feel while hunting for bargains at a thrift store:
Before you get to the thrift store, you have to pump yourself up a little—it’s all about getting your head in the game. Everyone approaches this step in different ways. Maybe you’ll decide to stand in front of the mirror, stretching your neck muscles and taking a few quick jabs at your reflection. Perhaps you’ll sit in a patch of sunlight on the floor and meditate on the task before you. I prefer to go the Liz Lemon route: “Let’s do this.”
When you first throw open the doors to a thrift shop and that sweet, musty smell hits your nostrils, you can’t help but feel a deep sense of joy. There are shoes and clothes and books and trinkets piled high in every corner of the store—it’s an embarrassment of riches, really. You take a moment to say thank you to your higher power for blessing you with this moment, and a small tear of joy drips down your cheek.
But then you step into the chaos, and the joy you felt 30 seconds ago has been replaced by an overwhelming sense of anxiety. The aisles are tiny and there are way too many people inside the store. A stroller rolls over your foot and you think you’re lucky that you didn’t lose a toe. You are jabbed, poked, and prodded. The colors start swirling in front of you, and for a moment, you feel paralyzed.
You stare into the eyes of your fellow shoppers and see no humanity there. It becomes clear to you that you will have to fight to survive. You will have to be ready to pounce on the perfect pair of secondhand jeans when you see them, regardless of who tries to stand in your way. You adopt a take-no-prisoners mindset. Nothing can stop you.
Suddenly, you spot a fabulous pair of shoes, and—miracle of miracles!—they’re in your size. No one tries to rip them out of your hands. You take a deep breath. Things are not as bad as they seem. Armed with your soon-to-be-favorite “new” pair of shoes, you move through the crowds like a baby angel floating on a cloud. You take no notice of the crying children and wild-eyed adults around you. You are one with the thrift store. You calmly sift through a pile of sweaters in a bin, pausing to examine one that looks promising.
OK, hold up, you think. What in the hell is that stain? Is that blood?! On the armpit?! Who bleeds profusely from their armpits?!
Blood washes out, right?
At this point, you know you have to leave. You put the sweater back in its bin. You make your way to the cash register with your purchases, all of which cost less than your weekly latte budget. You have survived another trip to the thrift store, and you are better for it.
How To Thrift Like A Pro
It’s thrifting season! Or rather, it’s always thrifting season for those who love a bargain or an eclectic find. However, the good weather brings out the flea markets, garage sales, and even more endless chances to dig deep and find yourself something that no one has possibly even seen since 1902.
Although thrifting has never been my scene, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Bess Dunlevy, is a thrifting pro. It’s not just about love for the treasures she scores, but it’s an art that she’s perfected. Simply, the woman just knows how to shop thrift stores, and she has much to share on the topic.
When I asked Bess to explain this love affair with eras long gone, she said:
I find value in old objects and fashion, and I love hunting for vintage in my region of Pennsylvania. I’m particularly drawn to midcentury housewares and there is a rich history in this area – former manufacturers like Canonsburg Pottery, Jeannette Glass and Hazel-Atlas were once booming Southwestern Pa. industries. As a result, items from these former industries can be found when thrift shopping, often discarded from homes of former plant employees or relatives. Personally, I collect a great deal of 1950s dishware and glassware and I dress in vintage, as it suits my personal aesthetic. Thrifting just goes well with my own collecting habits. I’ve also been a vintage dealer since 2009, both on Etsy and here in Pittsburgh, and thrifting is a small part of maintaining my inventory.
So, from where does this thrifting adoration come?
I grew up with a grandmother who loved antiques and I would often go to flea markets with my mother. I’ve always loved the history behind objects, décor, fashion, and art – and when I purchased my own home almost 7 years ago, and my own vintage collections grew, my thrifting habits further developed. It’s also very smart when on a budget. I bought three 1960s cotton summer dresses last week for $10.50.
In addition, to be a thrifting pro, Bess is the woman behind Etsy’s Red Pop Shop (along with two other friends), and the initial driving force of the annual Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer, an event that gives the Pittsburgh vintage community a chance to show off their goods, add to their personal collections and share their love for the past.
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website’s content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra’s expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.